Kids in Eritrea grow up eating berbere, a fiery, brick-red spice mix. By the time they can toddle, they've swept their fingers through mouth-tingling stews countless times, bringing the bold flavors of their native land to their lips without batting an eye.
In the U.S., we wean our children onto what -- rice cereal? Sweet, pureed squash? Bland Cheerios? I'm not slamming American cuisine, but I do often wonder what impact geography plays in child-rearing practices, culinary and otherwise. (Have you seen the documentary Babies? You should.)
Maria Speck was raised by a Greek mother and a German father, and she spent her childhood in both countries. (Her last name actually means "bacon" in German.) Her new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (Ten Speed Press, 2011), is a beautiful collection of recipes inspired by her upbringing, and by the Mediterranean whole grain foods she has enjoyed throughout her life. While the book, recently honored by the New York Times, swells with information on grains across the spectrum -- everything from barley and millet to bulgur, buckwheat, and amaranth -- Speck avoids dogma and instead offers readers sheer joy and enthusiasm. Hello, Dark Chocolate Muesli. Hi, Saffron Waffles with Orange Cream. Where've you been my whole life?
Oh. You were in the Mediterranean while I was sucking down Chex in suburban New York.
Forget, almost, that whole grains are healthful. Speck focuses instead on how their textures and flavors sing, a fact that often gets short shrift in our "if it's good for you, it tastes bad, and if it's bad for you, it tastes good" fun-house culture.
This woman speaks my language.
Which is kind of funny, since I speak neither German nor Greek.
Recipe for Dark Chocolate Muesli with hazelnuts
From Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck (Ten Speed Press, 2011), with only the slightest and most insignificant of modifications
I've already made four recipes from this book, but this muesli, due to its decadent ingredients list and very short cook time, was one of the first to catch my attention. Adjust the amount of chocolate and the brown sugar to your own palate.
1/4 cup dried dates
1/2 to 1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup dried blueberries or raisins (I used diced apricots)
2 to 2-1/2 ounces very dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped into small bits
1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons (unsweetened) Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Stir together dates and brown sugar in a small bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and then stir in the date mixture.
For each serving, combine 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup muesli, and microwave on high for 45 seconds. Or, heat 1/2 cup milk in a small saucepan, remove from the heat, add 1/2 cup muesli, cover, and let stand for 1 minute. Serve.
***Three more sample recipes from the book are also online here. I highly recommend the Artichoke-Rosemary Tart, which I served at a dinner party to great raves. It makes a beautiful first course.